Author: Mary Beth TeSelle, Sponsored Content

Cancers of the head and neck are not only devastating to those living with them, but also challenging to the physicians diagnosing and treating them. Spotting the cancer can be difficult due to the location, and monitoring the cancer as it grows is not possible without advanced equipment.

The team at the Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Community Cancer Center now has a vital new tool in the fight against head and neck cancers — a scope that allows doctors to not only spot the cancer better, but also monitor its changes and growth over time.

“In its first year, our new scope has aided in cancer detection and surveillance in over 25 local cancer patients,” says Clayton Hess, MD, radiation oncologist with SNMH.

The technical name for the new scope is a flexible nasopharyngoscope.

“It provides a window into the body,” says Dr. Hess. “Put simply, this nose-pharynx-scope is a fiber optic camera mounted on the tip of a thin robotic sleeve. It’s tip is lubricated and slid inside the nostril to allow doctors to see inside the head and neck by passing through the nose into the space behind the nose and mouth called the pharynx.”

Images of the inside of the nose, sinuses, tonsils, tongue base, voice box, and the airway are projected through the camera onto a screen and recorded as digital movie files. Collected over time, these files allow the highest level of cancer detection and surveillance for patients with head and neck cancers.

Providers at SNMH’s Cancer Center have not previously had the capacity to store such a digital library of patient anatomy until now.

Dr. Hess points out that this new capability means local residents can receive comprehensive cancer care that includes the most optimal tracking of cancer growth over time — all right here, without leaving town.

“This benefits physicians who refer their patients for cancer treatment locally by enabling the cancer care team to share the video files between themselves,” Dr. Hess explains. “This helps to reduce the number of procedures needed, as well as ensuring that the follow-up capabilities are closest to the patient’s homes.”

The scope is used for cancers of the head and neck, particularly those associated with a history of smoking or the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

Prior to having use of this digital scope, providers either relied on a mirror placed in the back of the throat to view into the voice box area, or they relied on a similar scope that lacked any capability for digital movie capture, which only showed the images to an eyepiece without ability to record, re-play, share, store, and compare the images over time.

“This relied entirely on the memory of a single doctor to determine whether a cancer or an area suspected to have cancer was growing over time,” Dr. Hess says. “The video capabilities are now top-tier and are the standard that is offered at larger hospital centers.”

Dr. Hess is grateful to the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation team and the community who made this vital piece of equipment possible.

“The scope was acquired with the help of the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation and Executive Director Kimberly Parker, to whom we offer the deepest thanks for improving and modernizing our local cancer care capability,” he says.

Parker applauds the community for their commitment to ensuring our local community hospital is able to provide care that is on par with larger, urban medical centers.

“Supporting our hospital’s Cancer Center has always been a priority for us,” commented Parker. “Cancer can be scary. The Hospital Foundation is proud to do our part so our community knows our hospital is providing the best care possible for those going through a cancer journey.”

Dr. Hess says the new scope is just one more way SNMH and its team is providing exceptional care, close to home.

“Patients who find themselves facing a new diagnosis of cancer of the head and neck area can rest assured that the most optimal mechanism to detect and monitor cancer is now available to them close to home,” he says.”